Republican Ed Gillespie (left) and Democrat Ralph Northam are running to be Virginia’s next governor. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
Democrat Ralph Northam has an early eight-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race, according to a new survey released on Wednesday.
The poll by Quinnipiac University found 47 percent of Virginia voters backed Northam, the state’s sitting lieutenant governor, while 39 percent backed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
It’s one of the earliest general election polls in what’s expected to be a hard-fought campaign in Virginia, one of just two states with gubernatorial contests in November. The governor’s race is seen as an early test of politics in the era of President Trump, and both national parties have identified it as a priority.
Northam easily beat Tom Perriello in last week’s Democratic primary, while Gillespie narrowly squeaked out a victory over hardline conservative Corey Stewart in the GOP nomination contest.
Historically, the winner of Virginia’s governor’s race comes from the party that lost the presidential contest. Incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term, broke that trend in 2013.
Northam’s lead slipped since April, when he had 11-point advantage over Gillespie in a hypothetical match-up tested by Quinnipiac.
The latest poll found few voters crossing party lines to vote for governor, and independent voters were evenly split between Northam and Gillespie.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, has made expanding access to health care and workforce development top priorities, while Gillespie is running on a platform of cutting income taxes and improving the business climate.
The economy and health care ranked as voters’ top priorities, each drawing about 30 percent, while education, taxes and immigration lagged behind. Voters thought Gillespie would do a better job handling the economy and taxes by narrow margins, while Northam was seen as the better candidate on health care and education by double-digit leads.
Support for Northam outpaces his favorability rating, suggesting he’s buoyed by his Democratic affiliation. The lieutenant governor was seen favorably by 36 percent of voters and unfavorably by 24 percent. Gillespie had an equally split 29-29 favorability rating.
Nearly 4 in 10 voters said they were too unfamiliar with both candidates to form an opinion.
The poll also found voter approval of McAuliffe at 47 percent, a 5 point drop since Quinnipiac last surveyed voters in April. At the same time, his disapproval rose by 5 points.
More than half of voters approved of the performance of Virginia’s two Democratic senators: Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Voters believed Kaine deserved to be re-elected next year by a 47 to 38 percent margin.
In addition to the governor’s race, voters are also casting ballots in November for attorney general, lieutenant governor and all 100 House of Delegates seats.
The survey found voters disapprove of the way the GOP-controlled state legislature is doing its job by a margin of 42 to 38 percent, with 20 percent expressing no opinion. Voters want Democrats to retake control of the House of Delegates by a 48 to 41 percent margin. Republicans currently hold a staggering 66-34 majority, although Democrats have identified a longshot path to retake the chamber by sweeping all 17 districts won by Hillary Clinton in November.
Interviewers surveyed 1,145 Virginia voters between June 15 to 20 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.